While I’m not going to argue that you can explore the entire beautiful state during a Colorado weekend getaway, you can fit in quite a bit of awesomeness around Boulder and Denver in just 72 hours. Colorado has a little bit of everything you could want in a vacation: stunning scenery, delicious restaurants, sunny weather, outdoor activities and – if you’re into that kinda thing – it even has legalized recreational marijuana.
It’s easy: there are direct flights to Denver International from tons of US cities, and affordable airlines like JetBlue and Spirit both fly there.
It’s not as far as you think: the flight can range from under 4 to under 5 hours from the east coast, and around 2 hours from the west coast.
If you want to go between both cities on your Colorado weekend getaway, it’s best to rent a car and stay halfway between. You’ll save a ton of money on the hotel by staying in the ‘burbs, and if you want to go out one night and not drive, Ubers are plentiful. I stayed at the Springhill Suites in the suburb of Westminster, CO for three nights.
Colorado Weekend Getaway City Adventures
I instantly fell in love with Boulder, which I hesitate to even call a city. I mean, there are no skyscrapers and hiking trails are located within its limits. But it does have several things a great city should have: excellent restaurants, a pedestrian-friendly downtown area with lots of fun stuff going on live, cool shops and “Free the Nipple” protests. OK so that last one isn’t necessary, but it was definitely entertaining!
Fuel up for a day of being outdoorsy with a healthy breakfast at Lyfe Kitchen on Pearl Street, where all the meals are both nutritious and under 600 calories. Then, an easy place to kick off your Boulder adventure is Chautauqua Park, which is actually owned and maintained by the city. There are a number of hiking trails that start from Chautauqua Park, and at the bottom you have a great view of Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, five rock formations that are a symbol of the city and popular among rock climbers.
One option is the Royal Arch Trail, which is relatively short and labelled “moderate” in intensity. Remember that if you hail from sea level, you’re now at a different elevation and a moderate hike could be quite difficult. Some portions of the trail are very steep and you’ll probably have to stop and catch your breath a few times. Take it slow and bring snacks and plenty of water if you’re hiking shortly after you arrive. A Colorado weekend getaway doesn’t provide much time to adjust to the altitude, unfortunately!
Boulder has a ton of restaurants and bars, but it is a college town at heart. That being said, there are some cool places to hang out where you won’t find a fratty crowd.
Centro, located right on Pearl Street, is a great outdoor Mexican spot for dinner, drinks and people watching when the weather is warm. The tacos are tasty!
Another place that I loved for dinner in Boulder was Blackbelly, located in East Boulder, about a 10 minute drive from downtown. The chef behind Blackbelly is dedicated to farm-to-table cuisine, and on Blackbelly Farm he raises his own livestock and produce. We sat at the chef’s counter and listened to the staff’s recommendations for dinner, and we weren’t disappointed. Everything from our steak to the cocktails and dessert was ridiculously good.
For after dinner drinks, start your evening off at the historic Boulderado Hotel, which has a hidden, prohibition-inspired bar in the basement called License No. 1. The bar, which had a sign boasting that it had been serving since 1909, and legally since 1969, actually came recommended by my hairdresser and I was glad I listened to her as it was pretty cool and serves a good Pisco Sour. The hotel itself, which is one of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America, is really cool to pop in and check out while you’re in town, too. The lobby has a snap-worthy stained-glass ceiling, cherry cantilevered staircase and original tile floor reminiscent of Colorado’s Victorian past.
From here, there are a number of interesting bars within a few blocks. If you like beer, Bohemian Biergarten is a cool place to chill out. If you’re more into the cocktail scene, try Bramble & Hare.
I didn’t end up spending too much time in Denver, because I really loved hanging out in Boulder. But Denver is cool too, and depending on your preferences you might like it better. I will say that it was very clean, and while it was definitely more “city-like” than Boulder, there was still plenty of green space.
Larimer Square is one unique part of the city to check out. It’s super cute and has some nice-looking restaurants and shops to visit.
We also had brunch at a restaurant called Onefold in the City Park West neighborhood of Denver. It was a bit out of the way from the center of town, but totally worth the trip (and they had a parking lot).
The all-organic menu is small, but there’s something for everyone. I went with the belly bacon fried rice topped with duckfat fried eggs – because how could you not – while my friend Camila opted for the bacon tacos (equally as delicious). We were all about the bacon. Oh and I can’t forget to mention that they served both cold brew iced coffee and bone broth for beverages. Hipster dreams do come true.
After brunch in Denver on Sunday morning, we headed back out of the city to Arvata for some horseback riding at the Wild West Ranch. Hour-long trail rides were only $25, and they were able to accommodate us for a private ride at the last second which was pretty great.
While the ride was low key and I can’t say it’s the most beautiful I’ve ever been on, it did offer great views of the Rocky Mountains. Plus, getting back on a horse for the first time in more than a year was awesome.
On Day Three of your Colorado weekend getaway, you’ll probably find yourself pretty tired. You’ve been active, you’re dehydrated and if you’re coming from the east coast like me, still catching up on the time difference. Fortunately, Colorado is home to a number of scenic byways, and a long relaxing drive should definitely be on your itinerary.
About an hour and a half from Boulder is the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the U.S.’s highest auto road. I wish I could say I was a total badass and drove all the way to the 14,000-foot summit, but we had a moment of panic just a couple miles in and had to turn around.
This road is S C A R Y. I barely drive, ever, and really didn’t trust myself on these hairpin turns and narrow roads with no guardrails at terrifying heights. I didn’t believe the Tripadvisor reviews about how bad it was (one mom said her children cried the entire way up but the view was “worth it”). But they were legit. If hairy moments on the road don’t phase you, though, definitely check it out.
Even if you’re a complete wimp like us, it’s still worth driving up to the starting point of the Mount Evans Road. Right before you turn right into the national park, there’s a gorgeous lake among the mountains that makes for a great photo opp (see top of this post). There’s also a parking lot overlook you can also pull into to take pictures.
On the way back to Denver, skip the major highways and take Route 6, another scenic drive that follows the picturesque Clear Creek, takes you through several mountain tunnels and ends up in Golden.
Golden is a historic mining town with an Old West vibe about 40 minutes outside of Denver, and makes for a nice little road trip stop to walk around and grab a bite to eat. It’s also home to the Coors brewery.
I should probably mention that my travel buddy, Camila, is gluten free, which is why we weren’t hitting any of those famous breweries Colorado is known for. But despite its reputation as a beer state, Colorado is an excellent place to travel if you have dietary restrictions. Almost every place we visited offered gluten free, vegan or dairy-free menu items, and the majority of the food we ate was all natural, locally sourced or organic. The health nut half of my brain was thrilled!
We wrapped up our short visit to Golden with dinner at Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza. It happened to be unlimited pizza night for college kids, which meant that with a college ID you could get unlimited pizza for $7. A pretty sweet deal, I must say! Sadly we’re not in college, so we opted for two personal-sized pizzas (complete with gluten free crust) that still hit the spot.
Our Colorado weekend getaway was pretty awesome, and I’m hoping to return in the winter to get my snow sports on. And by snow sports I mean skiing down the bunny hill before going to the lodge for a cocktail.